World Twenty20 2014 March 31, 2014

Fatigue no excuse for sloppy Australia

Australia's early exit from the World T20 could be put down to sloppy cricket on the field from a squad that looked old, unbalanced and ill-suited to the challenges of Bangladesh
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It would be logical, and also convenient, to conclude that Australia's dire World Twenty20 campaign was simply a tournament too far. For a team, a management and a selection panel elated but exhausted by earlier achievements in a long summer, the trip to Bangladesh served mainly to delay a deserved homecoming for the likes of David Warner, Brad Haddin, Shane Watson and Darren Lehmann after their exploits against England and South Africa.

But it would also be too easy an out to settle on the explanation of physical and mental fatigue. Plainly, this was Australia's poorest showing at an ICC event in years, maintaining the side's longtime weakness in the shortest of the formats and exhuming some former scars inflicted by spin bowlers on subcontinental pitches. Like the 2010-11 Ashes that hurried along the Argus review, these were defeats to be deplored for how and why they occurred, and the source of some introspection about how Australia continue to struggle in T20.

A campaign in which the team were eliminated before their final pool match began is an even worse result than that of the 2013 Champions Trophy, the event that ended Mickey Arthur's tenure as coach following Warner's misbehaviour off the field and the timid performance of the team on it. There is no question of the Ashes architect Lehmann paying similarly this time around, but he and others would do well to learn from the sharp lessons of three defeats.

First among them is that confidence, hubris and brio can help Australia's players express themselves and perform at their best, but only when allied to a strong sense of hard work and a fastidiousness of preparation. Sloppy was not a word commonly heard when discussing the Test or ODI teams during the summer, but it was on the lips of Lehmann, the captain George Bailey and the national selector John Inverarity following each reverse in Dhaka. As Inverarity surmised:

"Our feelings are of disappointment. We were confident we had arrived at a very good squad, and I do recall it was very well received in the press. Also leading into the T20 World Cup in Bangladesh a number of well-informed pundits had Australia highly fancied. In those first two games against Pakistan and West Indies, we thought we could have won those two games, but there was some sloppiness in all three departments of the game, and we missed out on those two. The performance last night was poor. We're disappointed."

The sloppiness went beyond Australia's performances while batting, bowling and fielding also. James Faulkner's overly belligerent choice of words about West Indies in the lead-up to that match, that would ultimately eliminate Bailey's team, was a reflection not only of overconfidence but also the inability to read how times and circumstances had changed.

Shooting from the lip was a part of Australia's Test match success, and has been a significant factor in Faulkner's own success, but in Bangladesh it suggested a team less concerned with performing than settling scores. West Indies celebrated wildly in response, but took due care to ensure they only did so after the match had been secured. The lazy presumption of victory is often followed by the forfeiting of it.

Australia's selectors can also look back on the team they chose with some degree of regret, having pulled together a squad that appeared strong but ended up looking old, unbalanced and ill-suited to the challenges of the local conditions. This was most evident in the way the team fielded, quite visibly short of the Olympic standards set in Australia and South Africa, and noticeably missing the skills of numerous talented operators.

Partly this was due to time and tide. The national team's best fielders include the captain and T20 retiree Michael Clarke, the Test-matches-only paceman Ryan Harris, and the unavailable Mitchell Johnson. But others were available yet not called upon - Steven Smith would undoubtedly have excelled in Bangladesh much as he did in the Sheffield Shield final, while the athletic Nathan Coulter-Nile languished behind the decidedly less manoeuvrable Doug Bollinger.

"It's true that we haven't fielded well there," Inverarity said. "A number of our better fielders didn't have their best nights in the field either of those who were in the squad. I was talking to [selector on duty] Rod Marsh on the phone in Bangladesh two or three days ago, and he said he'd watched the fielding sessions and they were absolutely brilliant. But in the games we weren't up to our usual standard. Fact."

The deficiencies of Australia's batting were notable, whether it was in a dunderheaded and one-dimensional attempt to slog to victory over Pakistan from a position of strength, or in an unconditional surrender to India's spinners in an ultimately meaningless pool fixture on Sunday night. Fatigue can be partly blamed for this, but it will be disconcerting for their IPL owners to have seen Watson and Warner fail so completely to be influential. The sight of Watson standing his ground after being bowled rather summed up the gap between Australian batting's perception and reality. At least Watson was able to offer a frank assessment in the aftermath.

"It's not the first time the majority of us have played a lot of cricket back-to-back, it's no excuse whatsoever," Watson said. "It's integral to be able to get off to a great start in this tournament or you're out [early] like we were. It's absolutely no excuse whatsoever. I know everyone coming here was extremely excited about being involved in this team. We've got a lot of match-winners in our team with bat and ball but we just haven't been able to put it together unfortunately."

As for the bowlers, the tendency to concede runs in clumps was a recurring one, shredding the confidence of Mitchell Starc and leaving plenty to wonder how much Australia do now rely on Johnson. The attempt to replace him "like for like" with Bollinger as another left-arm paceman did not succeed, while Brad Hogg's inclusion must also be judged a failure. The introduction of James Muirhead was a worthier gamble, but Bailey's 2012 contention that Australia will have to think about encouraging a generation of doosra bowlers for subcontinental duty has only grown in relevance.

For now, the Australians must dress their wounds, finish their tournament neatly and return home for a rest. By the time they next face up to a major challenge - Pakistan in Dubai - it will be beyond any doubt that any staleness from the drawn out exertions of 2013-14 has passed. That tour, with its fixtures covering all three formats, will provide a decent gauge of whether the blind-spots evident in Bangladesh have simply emerged through overwork. If not, they will remain as major obstacles for a team hopeful of rising to far loftier heights than those of two forgettable weeks in Dhaka.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • VivGilchrist on April 2, 2014, 8:42 GMT

    @ofcourse, note sure if you realise but there are 3 formats in cricket. Just because a country has a very good Test team, doesn't automatically make them a good T20 team, and vice versa. Look at WI, as soon as the have to bowl or bat more than 20 overs they are useless.

  • dummy4fb on April 2, 2014, 6:46 GMT

    It doesn't matter. It's entertainment

  • Fast_Track_Bully on April 2, 2014, 5:02 GMT

    Starc is the best bowler in the world , Watson is the best all rounder, Warner is the best batsman , Haddin is the best keeper and Baily is the best captain the world as the fan's claim and everything proved against BD. great game by best teams in the world.

  • TheBigBoodha on April 1, 2014, 23:06 GMT

    Ravi_Hari, you mean you HOPE Australia will never win the World Cup. I assume you think that Pakistan and The WI will never win either, given that they barely scraped past Australia in conditions which suited them to an extreme degree. Oh, sorry, forgot that they have already won it.

    Both PAK and the WI couldn't win a game in their last two trips to Aus. They were not even competitive. Australia won more than 50% of the short format games on their last tours of the WI and the UAE.

    I rest my case on the "never" argument.

    And comparing a bowler to Steyn's best over in the competition is nonsense. Why don't we say Steyn is not as good as Steyn's best over, given that he only pulled that stunt off once in the comp? These slow, flat conditions are much better for shorter, skiddy quicks like Malinga and Steyn. Tall quicks with a high action find it very tough here. Maybe that's why Morkel got smashed everywhere. It's just a possibility, of course!

  • ofcourse on April 1, 2014, 20:40 GMT

    I am tired of Lehman being called Ashes Architect or whatever. Credit to Aus victories over the last couple of series should ONLY go to MJ and strictly no one else. Lehman was just way too lucky to be at the right time at the right place. Just remove Mitch from the squad and Aus would have comfortably lost both Ashes and SA series. And, MJ wouldn't have done wonders in a T20 in Bang either - the conditions are far too different and he would have only had 4 overs afterall.

  • Ain_EL_Sabet on April 1, 2014, 19:07 GMT

    People should understand Bd pitches are not best for pace balling and aus seems to have no interest in spin. If this tourny were held in South-Africa , might have been different story for aus. I am Bd fan by the way .

  • pat_one_back on April 1, 2014, 10:35 GMT

    As disappointing as Australia's failure to fire has been, it's a fair testament to Aust general success how quickly and deeply the knives have come out. A couple of close games were lost, that's T20, Pakistan, India & WI are all worthy of a finals berth, it's hardly Ireland or the Netherlands getting through ahead. Hopefully the learning for Aust is build an entirely separate team and infrastructure before this cricket equivalent to Rugby's Hong Kong 7's detracts undue resources from ongoing Test success.

  • DC75 on April 1, 2014, 9:26 GMT

    I am an indian fan and I like australian team. Aus had world beaters but they simply did not put it together. I would have gone with Aus team with few changes - expecially with Steve Smith and probably Lyon for this T20 world cup, that along with MJ being available would have resulted in Aus win easily. To say that Aus does not care is wrong - they would not have sent highly talented team. To say that Aus does not play T20 game well - if so, how come IPL has so many match winning aus players or for that matter why BBL is a success? Play this T20 tournament outside of the sub continent and same Aus team would be crushing other teams. To put it in simple words - team needed more spin options, should have had some cricket smartness (as Warnie puts it), thats all it is, do not put too much in Aus performance, they are going to be more than handful in 2015 world cup - that is the reality.

  • ravi_hari on April 1, 2014, 9:16 GMT

    The basic problem with Aussies is a weak leader and a team which forgot what aggression is. The way the bowlers come in and just go through the motions hardly inspires anybody, leave alone taking wickets. Both Starc and Bollinger lacked the impact which a Jhonson or Harris would have made. It is astonishing to see Faulkner giving away 12 runs in 4 balls while Steyn defends 7 in the last over. There is a huge gap in what people expected and what transpired on the field. Highly disappointing. I think Bailey is a very weak leader who himself does not know when to defend and when to attack. His bowling changes, his field placements and the batting order all were faulty. In the opening game Hodge should have come in before Bailey. With just 7.5 to get an over, sensible batting was the need of the hour and Hodge could have ensured it. In the second game giving an expensive Starc the 19th over was a blunder. Watson or Maxwell should have bowled it. I dont think Aussies can ever win T20 WC.

  • VivGilchrist on April 1, 2014, 8:46 GMT

    Samuel Badree, Krishmar Santokie, Darren Sammy, these are the type of players that excell in T20 - economical bowlers and a one-dimensional slogger. This style of player would rarely take a Test wicket or make consistent Test runs. They cannot hold a candle to a Ryan Harris or Dale Steyn, or a Hashim Amla, but in T20 they are kings. T20 has given a generation of players not quite good enough a chance to shine.

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